Big health benefits may be hidden in tiny houses, according to two Kansas State University researchers. This fall, Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology, and Julia Day, assistant professor of interior design, are traveling the country studying the super-small dwellings. The pair believe there are big health advantages to living in tiny houses, particularly when located in tiny house communities called villages. But challenges establishing such villages may prevent many from this affordable housing.
"Some individuals live in tiny houses on their own in the country, but there are others who live in tiny house villages," Irwin says. "We think that does a few things for one's health, including creating a better sense of community, satisfying people's basic needs for relationships, offering affordable housing options and encouraging physical activity through community gardens and walking to urban establishments."
Irwin is researching if living in a tiny house village will encourage residents to be more physically active, while Day is researching sustainable building design and healthy building materials for tiny houses.
"Design elements and strategies such as solar panels or low-water-use fixtures are part of the bigger sustainability and environmental health picture, but when designing and building a tiny house — or any house — it is beneficial to thoughtfully select building materials without harmful chemicals to increase indoor air quality and health," Day says. "In addition, there are many known health benefits for natural lighting and fresh air in living spaces, a common theme in many tiny house designs."
The researchers will visit tiny house villages and interview residents and village founders about several aspects of living in tiny houses, including how they overcame zoning, building and fire codes, and city planning difficulties.
"The biggest challenge with tiny houses is trying to find a place to put them," Irwin says. "Zoning laws dictate where you can and cannot put a house. Right now, the big question is what is a tiny house, because how you define a tiny house dictates where you can put it."
In addition to their research, Day and Irwin have been working to establish a tiny house village or area for tiny houses as accessory dwelling units around Kansas State University's Manhattan campus. The goal is to reduce the housing cost burden on residents while still providing a benefit to the community. Defining a tiny house differently than a recreational vehicle or mobile home may provide the opportunity to establish affordable housing options in middle- or upper-middle-class neighborhoods or in the middle of cities within walking distances to basic needs.
"Tiny houses have a different connotation to them; they are typically seen as a middle- or upper-middle-class housing structure," Irwin says. "We know that's not the case — they can be economical — but we can harness that image that they have to address a real problem: affordable housing."
Day and Irwin started their travel across the county in late September.